Stälker – Shadow of the Sword 01Last year in our EP edition of TYMHM, I waxed eloquent about a great little proto-thrash demo from some Wellington, NZ upstarts, Stälker. Their Satanic Panic cassette was such a nasty bit of early speed metal that it garnered the attention of Napalm Records, and this power trio was set to record their full-length debut this year. Enter Shadow of the Sword. Last year I compared these guys to early Canadian speed metal merchants Exciter, as well as the first Anthrax album, Fistful of Metal. One could stack Satanic Panic up against any of that early 80s speed/thrash output — Accept, Motörhead, etc. Can the lads keep it going on their first full-length?

Well, it’s an A for effort, that’s for sure. “Total Annihilation” tears out of the gates with lightning riffs and speed to burn. And just like on Satanic Panic, the band verges on losing it altogether throughout, just barely keeping up with each other. The three songs from that demo are all present here as well, and they should be, as they are kick-ass tunes. A few times the band hints at slowing down — the beginning of “Path of Destruction,” “Evil Dead,” and “Demon Dawn” — but those are simply red herrings, as seconds into each Stälker are going full bore again. The template of choice is more like “Shocked to Death,” with a great opening riff, hyper-fast rhythm, indecipherable (except for the chorus) vocals, and short, fast lead breaks. This is the speed metal we grew up on.

Despite forming in 2016, Stälker are no spring chickens. Guitarist Chris Calavrias and drummer Nick Oakes are from now-defunct speed merchants Razorwyre, a band that also knew how to deliver the goods. Calavrais, in particular, stands out here, with excellent riffs and blinding lead breaks. Oakes’ drumming is top-notch, often bordering on frantic. Clearly, bassist Daif King drew the short straw and was saddled with vocal duties in the band. King shrieks, shouts, wails, warbles, and screams his way through the songs with an unbridled enthusiasm that is inversely proportional to his actual talent. For some, this will be a showstopper, while for others it harkens back to the days when nobody could really sing, but somebody had to, and why not go all out? King is so bad he’s good, and with his vocals buried in slap delays and other effects, words can be hard to make out anyhow — but you sure get a feel for what he’s trying to get at.

Of special note here is the metadata below. Through nefarious means I cannot discuss publicly, I wound up reviewing what sounded like a master recording, rather than the finished product. The stream didn’t sound nearly this good, of course, and when it comes to this sort of throwback album, a hi-fi recording seems a bit odd. I compared the same songs from Shadow of the Sword and Satanic Panic, and the difference is stark. I actually hope the final version is muddied up and compressed a bit. Excellent file resolution aside, the production and mix are, well, mixed. The delays on King’s vocals, coupled with his voice being a bit low in the mix, is probably a good thing, but the guitars needed to come up a bit when delivering the tasty riffs that litter the album.

I sure hope Stälker stick around longer than Razorwyre did: Shadow of the Sword is a real treat, ten songs that never let up, drowning us in wave after wave of proto-thrash. While the pristine sound of my copy didn’t fit the style, assuming the final release has a bit less fidelity this is the template all bands looking to revive the early 80s sound need to follow. While the vocals are cringeworthy at times — and on purpose — the songs overcome this easily with ceaseless speed and infectious riffs you’ll find impossible to air guitar to. Stälker deliver on the promise they showed with Satanic Panic and then some.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 1,411 kbps wav
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: stalkerheavymetal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/stalkerheavymetal
Releases Worldwide: November 17th, 2017

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  • Eli Valcik

    Whenever I looks at that cover it makes me think of a medieval terminator.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      It made me think of Mötley Crüe’s Dr.Feelgood! 1989 Me would have bought this record just because of the cover, just like 1898 Me bought Dr.Feelgood.
      By the way, with so many doctors around, why isn’t there a Dr.Feelgod on AMG’s staff? Why did it take me so long to ask?

      • Nukenado

        1898?
        Aren’t you a bit olde to listen to metal…
        Or any sounds at all?

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Holy shit, we have a Vampire in our midst! Way cool, and very metal.

          • Nukenado

            Vampires lean a bit too close to cheese for me.

          • Tofu muncher

            Even when it is the great Jörn singing about it (in one whole damn album)?

          • Nukenado

            I concede.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I’m no Vampire, let’s just say I hope Connor MacLeod doesn’t find me.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          I meant to write 1989… 1898 Me was being amazed by Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of polonium and radium.

          • Nukenado

            They were pretty metal. Heavy, even.

      • Eli Valcik

        Dr.Reelgood?

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Dr.Reelgood?
          Let him introduce himself real good… Dr. Feelgood
          He’s the only one they call feelgood Oh yeah!

  • Bystander

    Haven’t finished the first sentence yet; just had to immediately thank you for writing “waxed eloquent” instead of “waxed eloquently.” Bless you, sir.

  • foreverAlfon

    I actually laughed a lot with the valoration of this guy’s singing “style”. Sounds like a fun record.

  • Sold!

    • Brutalist_Receptacle

      Söld!

      – – There. Fixed it for yöu.

      • VikingSchism

        I’d buy a Flätpäck Brütälïst Rëcëptäclë from IKEA, to be honest

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          You’re more likely to find it at IKËA

          • Nukenado

            Poser, I always shop at ÏKËÄ.
            Their meatballs and vegetable medallions are surprisingly pretty brvtal.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            You mean ÏḰËÄ?

          • Nukenado

            I stand corrected.

  • ssorg

    Embedded track has a pinch of the maniacal derangement (and heaviness) that makes Deathhammer so dear to my heart. Nice review, on it goes into my ever-expanding Bandcamp wishlist.

    EDIT: disappointed they didn’t give this a rhyming title to rival “Satanic Panic”

    • The Akerstache

      I’m enjoying that embedded Stalker track a lot, but damn, the best suggestions are always in the comments. Hadn’t heard Deathhammer before, that is exquisite.

      • ssorg

        Yep, one of my favorites. Nothing beats blasting “Evil Power” while terrorizing pedestrians and dodging death on my bike commute

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Hey, it’s Stälker! Don’t leave the ümlaut out.

    • Nukenado

      The “Satanic Panic” wasn’t invented by these guys though.
      By the way, this title reminds me of Trials :(

      • sir_c

        It almost sounds like a new release of Ubuntu Linux, but that would become something like Satanic Satan or Lucid Lucifer.

    • Unwanted Guest

      I feel less excited by other good speed metal bands, after having listened to DEATHHAMMER’s Evil Power… It made a highest standard for enjoying speed metal to me.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Most things can be improved by maniacal derangement. Except the U.S. government. Well, except any country’s government.

      • ssorg

        Music and sports teams, yes. Food, err… Governments and Parents, definitely not.

  • Nukenado

    It’s kind of sad you can get better sounding music than the final product by pirating.
    Ahem ahem Death Magnetic

    • Huck N’ Roll

      I didn’t pirate :)

      • Nukenado

        You asked the band…?

  • Brutalist_Receptacle

    Pictured (l-r)
    This guitar is my axe; singer dude; this guitar is my penis.

    • ssorg

      Singer, humming quietly: “cuz you’ve got it made with guy in shades, oh no”

    • sir_c

      The guy on the left doesn’t axe questions

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Oddly, the band photo makes me want to see the other two guys’ belly buttons. It humbles us / to see your umbilicus!

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Now, that made me laugh… and I guess by belly buttons you mean beer belly buttons, right?

        • Monsterth Goatom

          I embrace all belly buttons, so to speak.

    • Jesus, bass players get no respect. The left is the bass. Otherwise, great comment.

  • Excentric_13073

    A DR11 in 1411kbps wav format? now THAT’S Kvlt!

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Stalker….not just middle aged single IT guys then….

  • Grimstrider

    Anybody ever look at a band photo and instantly nope the fuck on by? ‘Cause I sure do!

    • Here’s Johnny

      only you! who gives a fuck what a band looks like in a photo?

      • Enough people that bands spend time (and often money) taking band photos.

        • Thatguy

          And still get it wrong.

      • Thatguy

        You are so wrong on so many levels.

      • Grimstrider

        Mom, please! Not in front of my internet friends!

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      There are even devices that allow you to do that! Ask Thatguy about his legendary Band Photometer.
      I instantly nope the fuck on by on bands that look core, rap or anything like Machine Head did around “The Burning Red” and “Supercharger”.

      • Thatguy

        Thanks. I deploy it selectively these days.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          You should deploy it more. Remember you are supposed to interact more.

          • Thatguy

            I do.

            People keep beating me to it though.

      • Grimstrider

        I don’t have any strict rules, but Anorexic Stone Cold and the Flabulous White Slash definitely set off alarms.

        …also, grown ass men should not wear bangs.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          With band names such as those I wouldn’t need to look at the band picture to instantly nope the fuck on by.

          • Grimstrider

            …I was actually attempting to mock the physical appearances of the band up there but, yes, those would be shitty band names, indeed!

        • sir_c

          All the Verb-The-Noun band names are suspect too

    • Thatguy

      It is an art that some of us are gifted with but which we can all learn.

  • Huck N’ Roll hates dynamic range, everyone. Get him!

  • Tofu muncher

    Done Purchasing. Speed/Thrash. 3.5/5. A no brainer.

  • Yeah… those vocals are… umm… there.

  • Thatguy

    A man wearing an orange shark on his head just walked past my office window.

    I just thought you needed to know this.

  • Dagoth_RAC

    So, I listen to mostly metal and classical. And when streaming them, I always have to crank the volume real high on the classical stuff. Which makes some of the fortissimos insanely loud, but 90% of it is inaudible at “metal” volume levels. For this Stalker album, I have to crank the volume knob to classical music levels. But it doesn’t feel like it is because of soft parts that are legitimately soft and loud parts that are legitimately loud. The whole thing is oddly quiet if the volume is not cranked up way high. I don’t love it or hate it. It sounds pretty good once you get the volume high enough. But it is just odd. It makes those Earache “Full Dynamic Range” re-releases sound like Fallujah.

  • Tobias Hasselwander

    I liked them guys since the Demo from bandcamp.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I just realized I’m old enough to remember a time when guys in Thrash bands didn’t wear shirts and had no beer bellies in spite of drinking enough beer to make you think Prohibition was about to be brought back.

  • Tired Science Guy

    DR 11 on a throwback speed/thrash metal album?!?! Consider my attention gotten. I’ll have to check this one out.

  • Kyle Griffin

    That Death cover tho.

  • Digital Violence

    Loved the music, but I’m confused as to why they made the singer record his vocals in the rehearsal studio next door via the air-conditioning duct.

  • HeavyMetalVan

    It’s really a shame the vocals are layered with so many effects, the album cover is rad, and I dig the over all traditional metal aesthetics, but those vocs man, whew, can’t get past it.